There is far more to Snowdonia than the mountain. And the national park. And the lakes. In fact, for an area in the UK that is renowned for so much beauty, it is still somewhat of a hidden gem. In this article, we are aiming to shine a little more light on this stunning area of Northwest Wales to help you discover what it has to offer.
Obviously the incredible natural scenery is a huge pull. The largest mountain in England and Wales, the craggy peaks, the views across the sea to Ireland, the waterfalls, the woodland – we’re barely scratching the surface here.
On top of that, though, is everything you can do in this region – the adventure capital. Whether you want to be zooming through the air on a zip wire, hike along one of the many trails, kayak in whitewater, explore the caves or have a round of golf, Snowdonia will have you covered.
And then there’s the history! With human activity in the area stretching back to the prehistoric era, you can see settlements dating back to 200 BC, plus Roman camps and castles galore. It’s an area steeped in history, right at the centre of fierce rivalries, and rife with many myths and legends.
There is so much to see and do, it could feel overwhelming, but don’t worry because we are here to help. Here are our top things to do in Snowdonia.
Snowdon Mountain Railway
We’ll kick things off with a classic Snowdonia attraction – the Mountain Railway. To put this simply, it is one of the most beautifully scenic railway journeys on the planet, and one that you should definitely take a trip on if you ever get the chance.
The thing is, though, that it isn’t just the scenery that is so impressive about this narrow gauge track – it’s the fact that this is a remarkable feat of engineering that has been taking tourists up to the summit of Snowdonia since the 19th century. A fact that is truly mind blowing.
The track is 4.7 miles long and reaches a height of 3,493 ft, with seven stations along the way. The total journey time from Llanberis, at the bottom, to the Summit Station is roughly an hour, and along the way you can enjoy the exquisite views that can stretch all the way to Ireland on a clear day.
Please note, though, that the Summit is only available between late Spring and the end of October. Outside of that time, you can travel as far as Clogwyn, which is about 75% of the way up.
You can even pick what fuel you would like to use to get you up there! There are two services that run – the Heritage Steam Experience, and the Traditional Diesel Service. Whichever you pick, you are in for a treat as you look down on the valleys below.
I would recommend booking in advance, though, as it can get busy during peak periods. Check out the weather forecast as well, as you get a much better experience when the sky is clear, and don’t forget to pack your camera.
Explore the Iconic Village of Portmeirion
A little piece of the Mediterranean nestled into North Wales, Portmeirion is a village unlike any other. Created and designed by the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925, it was built in the style of an Italian village – his objective was to see how a naturally beautiful site could be developed to enhance it, rather than spoil it.
It is a fascinating little place.
You could spend hours taking in the buildings set in this picturesque backdrop, but there is so much more to this village than just the architecture. There are some incredible restaurants, a superb spa and acres of woodland to explore.
There are two hotels in the village, The Hotel Portmeirion and Castell Deudraeth, which are both 4 star and both benefit from excellent service and attention to detail. On top of that, there are plenty of self-catering cottages there, so lots of choice if you decide that you want to make the most of your time there.
Our advice is to not make any plans for your time there, and just wander around. See where the day takes you – you might end up in the subtropical forest (with hidden lakes) or maybe you’ll find yourself at the Amis Ruins, the famous Stone Boat which you can only see when the tide is out.
This delightful little village is well worth your time. It’s a truly unique place, which stands as a monument to one man’s dream to bring the Mediterranean riviera to the Welsh coast. We’re very grateful that he did.
Take a dip in The Secret Infinity Pool
“Is it a secret if you include it in this article?” I hear you ask. Well yes, actually, because I am going to hold up my end of the unwritten bargain here by not revealing exactly where it is – that’s all part of what makes it such a magical place.
It cost £400,000 to build, a project that was undertaken by local farmer Wyn Mostyn Jones in 2016 as part of a green energy initiative. Over the years it has grown in popularity with tourists and locals alike, but if you want to find it for yourself, you’re going to have to put in a bit of effort to track it down.
What you will find when you get there is a magically serene setting…
Gentle running water and sounds of the wildlife are the only things you’ll hear, and the views of the surrounding area are simply magnificent. Time seems to stand still, but before you know it an hour has passed, and you slowly emerge from this dream-like tranquillity. It’s one of those experiences in life that you really just need to try out for yourself to fully appreciate it.
The only clue as to the location of Snowdonia’s Secret Infinity Pool that seems to be widely available is that it is on the Llanberis Pass, one of the most popular paths in the region.
That should narrow your search down a bit, but for the rest you are going to have to put in the work yourself. We would recommend looking at other people’s photos, have a look on Google Maps and search on YouTube for extra clues.
It’s such a fitting attraction for Snowdonia – adventure and tranquillity all rolled into one.
Hike Through Gwydir Forest Park
Right in the heart of Snowdonia National park is this idyllic forest park – all surrounding one of the prettiest villages in Wales, Betws-y-coed.
If you are starting out from the village, which we would urge you to do because the village is worthy of a place on this list in itself, then there is a choice of four different coloured trails to guide you through the forest – all with varying degrees of difficulty. There will be a path for you, whatever your experience and ability.
The paths range from a quick 30 minute walk (1.2 km) to a 3-5 hour hike (10.6 km, and a climb of 500m), but whichever one you choose you will be able to take in some incredible views, walk under majestic Douglas fir trees (some which are around 100 years old), and read some facts about the area that have been dotted around.
The most strenuous trek is well worth your consideration though, as you’ll get to walk around some stunning lakes and up to get some incredible views of the scenery below. The paths are less than a metre wide in some places, and conditions can get tough in wet weather, but if you are up for the adventure, then the peaceful atmosphere at the top of the climb is certainly worth it.
There is even an orienteering course there, so you can test your map-reading skills – just make sure that your relationship is secure before starting a course with your partner!
One of the best things about hiking around Gwydir Forest Park, though, is that you invariably end up back in Betws-y-coed where you can find yourself a lovely pub or cafe to reward yourself with a well-earned drink.
Visit Conwy Castle
Looming above the mediaeval market town of Conwy is Conwy Castle, one of the best-preserved castles of its kind in the world.
Built by Edward I in the late 13th century as a show of dominance over the rebellious Welsh, the castle remains one of the best examples of the period’s military architecture and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It really is quite remarkable how the castle has remained in such good condition in the centuries since it was built. Edward was known for his extravagance when it came to castles, but Conwy castle really is a testament as to how well built his castles were. It is a masterpiece, even if it didn’t fully do its job in uniting England and Wales – plenty of mountainous areas in North Wales remained out of his control.
There is so much history to discover at the castle, but even if that doesn’t interest you, the views that you have from there certainly will. It overlooks Conwy’s idyllic harbour and you also can look back at the Snowdonian peaks, as well as the 1.3 km wall that surrounds the town.
The castle has also been the setting for blockbuster movies – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, starring Jude Law, was shot there, as well as 2020’s The Secret Garden. There really is something for everyone here.
Once you have spent time at the castle, be sure to go for a walk around the town. The whole town is packed full of historical buildings and landmarks, and with the river, harbour and beaches nearby, it’s a perfect location for a base for a Snowdonian holiday.
Delve into the Underground at Llechwedd Slate Caverns
Wales is a country with mining buried into its soul, and this rare opportunity to experience a trip 500 feet underground is not one to be missed. It is a tour that will stay with you long after you have returned to the surface.
The Deep Mine Tour at Llechwedd will walk you through the world of slate mining, which was so important to the area during the 19th and 20th centuries. You will be taken on an exhilarating trip up to the peaks of the site (on an ex-military truck), and en route you will be able to take in yet more stunning views of the surrounding Snowdonia landscape.
Then you’ll be led deep into the mine along Europe’s steepest narrow gauge railway, into the now-disused slate caverns. You’ll be told stories of the individual miners, as well as facts and information about the slate industry which was so important to the country.
It all culminates with a stunning light and sound display at the underground lake – a spectacle that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s a critical part of why the Llechwedd Slate Caverns have won awards as one of the best tourist attractions around.
We get that slate mining might not be the most exciting topic for everyone – largely because we felt the same when it was first suggested to us – but you need to trust us here, this is a thrilling attraction that you won’t regret visiting.
Go Below, with Go Below
The Llechwedd Slate Caverns that we have listed above are a great fun for all the family type of tourist attraction, that explores the industry and majesty of these incredible mines. But Go Below takes things up a notch…
Here, at Conwy Falls (just outside Betws-y-coed), you get to put yourself to the ultimate underground test involving zip lines, abseiling, boating, scaling waterfalls and climbing up vertical shafts. The kind of adventure that really gets your pulse tracing and your heart skipping a beat.
There are three different adventures to choose from, ranging from a 5-hour challenge, suitable for anyone aged 10 and up, to a 7-hour over 18s only extreme challenge with freefall jumps and the ‘goliath zip line’. This one is not for the fainthearted.
You can abseil down to the deepest point in the UK, guided by a friendly, experienced team of instructors that will make sure you are kept safe at all times. It’s the kind of activity that would be perfect for a stag do, but at the same time, ideal for anyone that loves a challenge.
They have also just constructed some underground cabins, so you can actually stay the night down there – 1375 ft below the surface, billed as ‘The Deepest Sleep In The World’.
This is the sort of once-in-a-lifetime experience that Snowdonia can provide. A slightly bonkers adventure, using a combination of nature and human industry to create something unique. If you like your trips with a bit of extreme adventure, this is the place for you.
Inland Surfing at Adventure Parcs
Surfing can be a frustrating pastime in the UK. The amount of time you need to wait to get the right conditions just means that it isn’t a viable hobby for 99% of the population that don’t have access to beaches on the right part of the coast. Even for those that do live near a great surfing beach, timing is everything.
Even though there are some truly spectacular beaches in North Wales, surfing is always difficult because the right kind of waves are very rare. So they have come up with a solution: Inland Surfing.
At Adventure Parcs, they have created a man-made lagoon which produces perfect waves every 90 seconds. This is done by an underwater snow plough, which runs along rails to create the pressure needed for the waves to materialise. The best thing of all, though , is that this can be fully controlled so that you can select which sort of waves you’d like to surf on.
There are four different levels: beginner, two intermediate levels and an advanced level. There is also an option to have lessons, so that you can learn from experts – it is the perfect environment to learn how to surf, rather than getting out in the sea and finding out that the waves are too rough or gentle for you to have a proper lesson.
Surfing is the type of thing that you can only learn by doing it, and here you can ensure you get plenty of waves to practice on.
If you have always wanted to get into surfing, but didn’t know where to start, let me help you out – start here at Adventure Parcs.
Just a quick note here – surfing is just one of the watersports available in Snowdonia. If you would like to try wakeboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, canoeing, paddle boarding etc – Snowdonia is the place to head.
Strike Gold at Sygun Copper Mine
A change of pace now, as we look at the Sygun Copper Mine – another fascinating site that will help to illustrate the importance of the mining industry in the area.
This is a great day out for a family. The tours are self guided and you are permitted to explore on your own the winding tunnels and colourful chambers as you try to remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites…! The copper ore ‘veins’ look magnificent in these perfectly lit caverns.
The mine has been disused since 1903, but this perfectly preserved mine gives you a direct look at what it would have been like during those busy Victorian years, a rare opportunity to experience this era.
While it is fascinating for guests of any age, there is plenty to do for children, with a playground, museum of antiquities, a metal detecting area and the opportunity to ‘Pan for Gold’.
The tour lasts about 40 minutes, and with the additional activities, it would make a nice activity for a family for a morning. We would suggest heading down to the beautiful village of Beddgelert when you are finished to get some lunch. It’s only three quarters of a mile down the road, and is picturesque with plenty of places to grab some lunch or a drink.
Okay, we couldn’t write a list of things to do in Snowdonia and not include the most obvious one – it is, quite literally, the high point of any visit to the area.
There are six different paths to get you to the top: Llanberis Path, Pyg Track, Miners’ Track, Watkin Path, Rhyd-Ddu Path or the Snowdon Ranger Path, which all vary slightly in terms of distance and expected time to complete, but they all have the same difficulty rating which is ‘Hard/Strenuous’.
This is not a jolly little walk up a hill and back again – you are going to scale the biggest mountain in England and Wales.
You’ll need to allow at least 7 hours for the trip in total, and make sure you have prepared sufficiently – plan your route, wear comfortable/suitable clothing, have plenty of food and drink with you and make sure you tell someone about your trip so they can check on you.
Every year there are around 200 call outs for help from people that get into trouble up there.
This isn’t supposed to put you off, far from it, we include this to leave you with no uncertainty – climbing Snowdon is a proper adventure. The sense of achievement when you get up there is very real, and you are rewarded with some of the most incredible views in the UK.
There is plenty of information available to help you prepare for your trip, so use it and make sure you know what you’re doing and where you’re going. Then all you have to do is keep safe and enjoy one of the most incredible hikes in the UK.
Why we love Snowdonia
So there you have it, our list of things to do in Snowdonia.
Reading that, I am sure you have already seen why we love this region so much. Where else in the world could you visit a quaint disused copper mine in the morning, and then go inland surfing in the afternoon? Or have a mooch around a picturesque rural village on your way to an underground zip line?
It’s a region that brings together the modern and the past. Nature and man-made industry. Beauty and exhilaration. That’s why we love Snowdonia.
Alex is a full time writer who loves to travel. He has two young boys and as a family they love to explore all corners of the UK. Having spent a lot of time in his childhood in Cornwall and South West of England, Alex has a particular passion for travel writing about these sorts of destinations.